On Unnao, Yogendra Yadav reminded India why it needed to feel outraged, and gave courage to the rape survivor with a call for a protest that said #TumAkeliNahinHo.
On the counter-letter from 62 artistes and intellectuals, he called them out as courtiers.
On the Lok Sabha election, as early as 19 May, Yogendra Yadav was warning India of a BJP hegemony, which he said would be stronger than the Congress hegemony of the 1980s because it is accompanied by “brute and effective use of state power”, “raw street power”, and “cultural and ideological hegemony”.
Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Every country needs a conscience-keeper, someone to remind them of the difference between the right and the wrong, who makes them feel ashamed of making convenient choices, who makes their hearts swell with pride for being forever honourable, who reminds them that fortitude is its own reward.
When times are dark, especially.
Kurta-gamcha & grounded thought
India has a handful of such people left, and Yogendra Yadav, 55, is one of them.
Yadav is a great advertisement for homegrown intellectuals, with his khadi kurta-gamcha appearance and his grounded thought. He may even be considered Gandhian, in the old-fashioned way, with his focus on the village economy, farmers’ welfare and environment. His refusal to get angry, especially when provoked during public debates, may be considered an abhorrence of violence, while his departure from the AAP is clearly a sign of his idealistic quest for an unalloyed style of politics.
His integrity cannot be doubted – call him the Ravish Kumar of Indian politics. He’s no Khan Market causeratti, preferring to work instead from the ground up. He chooses his causes carefully, aligning with the right organisations, and trying to amplify them rather than reinventing the wheel.
People like Yogendra Yadav brave screaming television anchors. They withstand vicious trolls. They pour their anguish into words that are being erased from public discourse – important words such as democracy and dissent. They come out on the streets to pray for a rape survivor from a town that time would have forgotten. They speak truth to power, no matter who is in power.
And, they always take Robert Frost’s road less travelled.
Road less travelled
When he had established himself at the Centre for the Study of Developing Studies in Delhi as a leading psephologist, he went on a sabbatical to become an anti-corruption activist along with Arvind Kejriwal.
When the fledgling party, the Aam Aadmi Party, was finally in power, he gave it up – or was expelled depending on which version you believed – to strike out on his own with lawyer Prashant Bhushan, because he disagreed with the crushing of dissent. As Yadav said in his answer to the removal in 2015: “The kangaroo trials, expulsions, witch-hunts, character assassination, rumour campaigns and emotional theatre to justify such macabre acts — all this is so true of the Stalinist regime.”
And despite having once been a key member of Sonia Gandhi’s pet project, the National Advisory Council, to oversee the implementation of the Right to Education Act, he was the first to announce after the exit poll results for the Lok Sabha elections were declared that the Congress party should “die”.
All this in a restrained manner and with a well-reasoned argument, which is rare in today’s time of high-decibel drivel, I mean, debate.
Individual and politics
A former colleague in the Aam Aadmi Party, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, calls him a deep-thinking person who, however, has been left behind by other activist people and causes. “Because of his interest in psephology, he ably understands electoral politics and its problems. It is a pity that he was unable to find himself a secure position in the politics that he is committed to,” he says. He has a role as an individual in politics, he adds.
And, Yadav appears quite content to follow that path as national president of the Swaraj India, a political party, and as member of the Swaraj Abhiyan, a movement that focuses on four core initiatives: anti-corruption, anti-communalism, farmers’ distress and youth empowerment. It draws on the work done by existing people’s organisations in these spheres, whether it is the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan on the Right to Information Act, or Narmada Bachao Andolan on resettlement or the Right to Food Campaign on food security.
Swaraj India’s tagline is telling: India Deserves Better. Let’s Build It Together. His long-time friend and colleague, from his days at Panjab University, and professor of history, M. Rajivlochan, says Yadav wants to change the way politics is done in this country. “We need more people like him in public life. If he is able to convince the people of Haryana in the forthcoming assembly elections that they need not suck up to their corrupt leaders, it will be a great achievement,” he says.
And make no mistake, he will do it his way. Rajivlochan recalls: “During the protests against the Nirbhaya rape, he was one of the leaders of a group with about 50 people. This group went on to sit peacefully in protest near India Gate. This peaceful sit-in so irked the Delhi Police that they resorted to lathi-charge.” It is not just that Yadav protests against wrongdoing, but that he does so in a reasoned, rational, and well-informed manner. As he said at the LSE South Asian Centre event in 2018: “People like me feel the very idea of India is under threat… in a systematic way with some sort of political support.”
Always a political person
What he also offers is a politics of hope. As he said at the LSE South Asian Centre, the challenge is to reimagine and reinvent the idea of India. He looks to the young, and believes they want something better. That’s what organisations like Swaraj Abhiyan hope to achieve – a modern India that stays connected to the country’s cultural civilisation. He sees this moment as an opportunity to create an “Indian modernity”. “BJP’s heroes are not the heroes of the young… They don’t believe in Savarkar but in Bhagat Singh, but the trouble is most young people don’t know that he was a socialist… Why can’t we talk more about Bhagat Singh or Vivekananda?”
In a 2015 profile for India Today, Asit Jolly wrote that Yogendra Yadav “derives his calm from the composure that comes from three decades of teaching and supervising research”. Despite his troubles with AAP, the report said, he had no intention of quitting politics. “My life so far,” he was quoted as saying, “was preparation for exactly what I am doing today. And this is certainly not something I intend giving up any time soon.”
Indeed, it would be a betrayal of his mentor, the late Kishen Pattnaik, a Lohiate and socialist from Odisha, whose Samata Yuvjan Samaj sparked his interest in politics when he was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1983.
“I’ve always been a political person who strayed into the world of political science for far longer than I would have preferred,” Yadav had said in an interview to India Today.
It can safely be said that both fields are richer because of his presence.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.